Lighting the Night

Three years ago, Saram Mendez extended his tallest ladder well beyond its safest limits and told his wife, Debbie, to hold it while he carried a string of lights up their Windsor home. Then, as a strong, icy wind whirled around him, he took a look around. 

He saw Debbie holding the ladder with one hand, and he was high enough that, despite the fact that he’d always loved Christmas, he felt death, instead of Santa, watching him decorate his house. 

Last year, Debbie decided she’d had enough and called Justin Noyes of Lighting Colorado’s Christmas to install the lights on their home. Saram isn’t sure if it was their time decorating together or the next year, when he used his truck to anchor the ladder (don’t ask), that led Debbie to make the call. This year, Saram didn’t even think about putting up the lights himself. 

“It’s a fair deal,” Saram says of Noyes’ work. “He does a great job, and Debbie said to me, ‘I needed to make that call so you don’t die on me.’” 

More and more companies that install Christmas lights are springing up all over Northern Colorado. Brilliant Christmas Lights, a company that serves Fort Collins all the way down to the north Denver area, was already 85 percent booked by late September and has a 95 percent retention rate. They will be so busy installing lights from early October to mid-December, says owner Mick McNeill, that finding a few minutes to take a breath on most days is tough. 

“We have over 900 clients all over Northern Colorado this year, crammed into a tight window,” he says. “I never thought this would be as big as it’s become.” 

McNeill says most of his customers, who tend to be affluent, busy workers or the elderly, couldn’t have Christmas lights on their homes without a company willing to do it. This is inspiring to McNeill, and he fires up his tired team with a slogan that he prints on T-shirts: Be The Light. 

“We recognize that the world can be a pretty dark place and could use more light,” he says.

Cam Herbel with Brilliant Christmas Lights hanging lights at a residence in Fort Collins. Photo by Jordan Secher.

Winter work

In 2015, prior to starting Lighting Colorado’s Christmas, Noyes faced a problem that many summer workers face: What the heck will I do in the winter?

He co-owns a painting business, Paint Pals out of Timnath, and started installing Christmas lights because it matched his skill set of reaching the nooks and crannies that seemed attainable only by Spider-Man.

“It goes hand-in-hand,” says Noyes, who lives in Windsor.

There wasn’t much of a market for Christmas light businesses back then, mostly because homeowners didn’t realize there were people who would put up lights for them. Now Noyes’ client base has grown to 200 Northern Colorado homeowners that he serves in two months by appointment. He doesn’t limit his clients to returning customers. 

“We grow with the demand,” Noyes says.

The market seems to have grown so much that many other Christmas light businesses can find work, even with the competition of Brilliant Christmas Lights and other companies that focus primarily on light installation in Northern Colorado. Brilliant alone employs about 50 people during the peak season. Even with their busy schedule, they still accept new customers.

Some landscaping companies also install Christmas lights, including Northern Colorado Landscaping, a business that operates under the name Northern Colorado Christmas Lights for the holidays.

Other seasonal businesses have expanded with additional offerings as well. Craig Fried owns a Mosquito Joe franchise with his wife, Michelle. Last year, he started NoCo Christmas Light Pros to keep three key workers employed during the mosquito hunting off-season, serving mainly Johnstown, Greeley and Windsor.

“The requirement for training for pest control is so high that the more we can bridge the two seasons and keep them on the payroll the better,” Fried says.

His first year wasn’t profitable, but he was happy with the steady work and thinks this year will be much better now that he’s past buying equipment and decorations and paying for training.

“We were able to keep our people employed,” Fried says. “That was the real goal.”

Travis Eberhardt (left) and Hayes Melvin (right) with Brilliant Christmas Lights. Photo by Jordan Secher.


Customizing your Christmas

Noyes and other Christmas light installers tangle with the same problems many homeowners face when they decorate their homes. A major reason Saram and Debbie Mendez sought professional help was the Colorado weather. They had lived in areas such as Florida and California; Ohio was the coldest place they’d been before they moved here.

“It’s just so icy and snowy and dangerous,” Saram says. “The snow has to be off the roof. We’ve gotten lucky with the weather so far.”

Indeed, nothing can disrupt a schedule like a snowstorm, and we’ve been known to get one before Halloween, let alone Thanksgiving or Christmas. Noyes won’t work when conditions are dicey. Fortunately for people who put up Christmas lights, most serious storms come after the second week of December, and by then the work is done.

Noyes and many other Christmas light companies use their own lights. It varies depending on whether customers rent or purchase them, but most have warehouses where they store the decorations for the following year and assign them to repeat customers. There are two reasons for this. The first can be figured out just by looking at your own decorations in your storage room: Balls of hibernating snakes have more order.

“It’s a nightmare,” Noyes says with a laugh. “It’s much easier to start from scratch.”

The second reason is more complex, and it’s why it can be expensive to hire someone to put up your Christmas lights: They do professional work. You won’t see light strings dangling from gutters, for instance, or strands with burnt-out bulbs. They cut strands of commercial lights, use special clips and design classic displays that look sharp. Homemade designs are charming—you’d miss neighborhoods without them—but they wouldn’t meet professional standards.

“That was a real eye-opener to me,” Fried says. “Now you find yourself looking and critiquing other homes. You need it to be perfect.”

Still, decorating others’ homes hasn’t dimmed the Christmas spirit for professional light installers. Both Fried and Noyes find the time to put up their own displays. Their love for the season helped them think of the idea in the first place.

“It is rewarding for sure,” Noyes says. “You get to see the work you’ve done every night.”

Things to consider

The process and cost of professional Christmas light installation vary by company, but here’s how it generally works:

The lights. Companies supply the Christmas lights and will cut them to fit your house. They take them down and store them at the end of the season. Most companies only charge you for lights once.

The design. Companies want your input on a design, but your options are limited. They can usually put lights on greenery, light poles and around the roof line of your house. You will have your choice of colors, but other types of decorations may be off the table. “We don’t do reindeer in the yard,” McNeill says. “Our thing is a very classic, professional look. It’s a pretty standard way of doing what we do. That way it’s reproducible.” It’s OK if you put up any other decorations yourself.

The cost. Prices vary, of course, but it’s not cheap. Noyes charges $6 per foot and $7 per foot for the second story. Brilliant Lights has a $1,000 minimum the first year before any discounts, and they offer 20 percent off for a flexible install, meaning they choose your date and give you one day’s notice. You may not have to be there for installations and teardowns. Most prices include maintenance, so if something goes wrong, the company will correct it.

Booking. Christmas light businesses are already working on homes around Northern Colorado, and some may not have any openings left. But there are plenty of local Christmas light companies to choose from, so it’s worth calling around.